pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Calls

Reading: Isaiah 1: 16-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”.

Verse sixteen opens with God’s admonition to “wash and make yourselves clean”. It continues the strong language of verses ten through fifteen. God continues on to tell his people to “stop doing wrong, learn to do right”! One can hear the frustration in these words. God set the law before them long ago, had led by example, has sent prophetic voices that have called the people back over and over. Once again, they have wandered away. Once again God seeks to call them back.

God does offer instruction on how to ‘do right’. In verse seventeen God implores the people to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. These are common themes throughout the Bible. Moses dealt with it, Micah addresses it. In the New Testament Jesus addresses the cause of justice, care for the other… often. Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah 61, revealing how the oppressed, the widow, the orphan have a special place in God’s heart. God is clear that these should have the same special place in our hearts. Why is this?

Most of us are secure in life, confident in who and what we are. We have position and status that allows us to voice our needs, our thoughts… We also have people and a community around us that will listen, that will care for us. Through Isaiah today and throughout the Bible, God is calling us to stand with those who do not know these privileges. God is calling us to walk beside those who are powerless and who are often outside of community. God is calling us not only to stand with and walk beside these, but also to bring them into community, into relationship. God calls us to love as God loves so that WE can become more like him. The prophets and then Jesus echo this call over and over again. May we join them all as we seek to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to release from darkness the prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours. Pour into me your compassion and love so that I may minister to the oppressed, to the poor, to the widow, to the captive among us. Grant me your heart, Jesus. Amen.

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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.


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A Plumb Line

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Verse 8: “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”.

God has called Amos out of the field to be a prophet to his people. The people have been living in ways that are displeasing to God. The king has led the people astray and the priest has followed along. The king and priest and the people are comfortable, even happy, in the lifestyle that they have settled into. The practices of caring for the other – the widows, orphans, needy… – have all been laid aside. Amos has been sent to pronounce judgment.

Today’s passage begins with God standing by a wall that has been built perfectly true. The wall and it’s perfection represent the law. The law is what is just and true and right. God stands by his wall. He asks Amos what he sees. Amos is still faithful to God and to the law. He sees a plumb line showing the wall to be true. God says to Amos, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer”. Amos is the plumb line. It is his voice that will try to call the people back to right and holy living. God will not spare them. Their hearts have become hard because they have come to love other things. Destruction and ruin will come. The voice of the prophet is not enough to fix all that is wrong.

In our world and perhaps in our lives we find much that is askew and wrong. For a long time the world has preached power and wealth and popularity. These things have been emphasized so long that they are the norm and they are embraced. To say that accumulating excessive wealth is wrong is looked at as abnormal today. The world sees self as #1 so to encourage people to care deeply for the needy draws odd looks. Amos’ world and our world are pretty similar.

In our world and in our lives, where is God calling us to apply the plumb line? Where can we make things align better with God and his plans?

Prayer: Lord, help me to search deeply within, to search for what needs to be set right. Give me the courage to change what needs changed. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Witness

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 43: “This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”.

This passage is a hard passage for many Christians today. Part of me wonders if it is a stay-home passage. That is a passage that people know is being preached on so they choose to stay home from church that day or they quit reading the blog at that point. It is a passage that challenges us to our core if we are willing to consider Jesus’ message and to really look within to see if we are equalling the example set by the widow.

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others”. She only put in two small copper coins. They were worth just a fraction of a day’s wages. This would be equivalent to a $40,000 a year business person putting in a couple of dollars at church today. Jesus and the disciples have watched rich person after rich person throw large sums of money into the temple treasury. Compared to their large gifts, it is hard to say that the widow’s offering is “more” than theirs. Yet Jesus says it is more. In fact, more than all the others.

No matter how big or small our offering is today in terms of cash value, I wonder if Jesus would say our offering was “more” when set beside all the other gifts brought to our church today? It is NOT about the cash value of the gift but is about the cost to the giver. A four-year-old could bring the best offering today, just as the widow did. Jesus explains why the widow’s gift was such. Jesus says, “They gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on”. Wow.

Some folks blanch at the word “tithe”. Compared to the widow’s faith, even 10% might look weak. There was not only great cost for the widow, there was a deep, deep faith on display. When you consider what you bless your church or community of faith with each week, does it demonstrate such cost and such faith in God? In not, I ask you to reconsider your faith.

Dear Father who blesses me so richly: may I ever give to you as the widow gave. Whether my time or my money or my gifts, may the portion I give you reflect the love you have for me. Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.